Famous People With Ankylosing Spondylitis

I am reading an excellent biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chenow, and I am enjoying it. I have completed about 400 of the 1200 or so pages, and something struck me as interesting. The first is that at one point in the battle around the defense of Chattanooga, the author describes Grant sitting at a desk and standing up, but he was still crouched over like he was writing at the desk and moved to a stack of papers in the corner and then back to his desk without ever standing up straight. The second happened when Grant was described by another commanding general as always being hunched over like he is falling forward as he walked along the street. Given those descriptions, I wondered if Grant suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS)?

I looked it up in several places, and sadly I did not find even a mention that Grant might have suffered from AS. Not surprisingly, AS was not first defined until around 1890 and did not become an identified disease until 1904, when Eugen Frankel named it. So the fact that Grant was not identified as having AS is not surprising. Even if he suffered greatly, it is unlikely it would show up in modern literature.

The quietly famous people with AS

Then I wondered who the famous people who have been diagnosed with AS are? It turns out the famous people are mostly quietly famous. Meaning that you may have heard of them, but you would unlikely know them if you passed them on the street. I chose the list from Wikipedia, but before I get started, I caution that Wikipedia may not be accurate and is never authoritative. It is not subject to academic scrutiny and its accuracy is suspect, even if it is known to be 100% accurate it is still not an accepted reference. Therefore, you must read this list, the other references I am using, and in fact all references from Wikipedia with extreme skepticism. With that warning, I do not believe that anyone is going to take my degree away, so let’s look. Here are some of the highlights of the Wikipedia page.

Rico Brogna

Major League Ballplayer and coach. He hit the first home run at the opening game of Coors Field in Denver. In 1991 he was diagnosed with AS and was placed on a daily medication for his disease. This caused the NY Mets to trade him to the Phillies. He later became the national spokesperson for the Spondylitis Association.

Norman Cousins

He was a writer, critic, college, and a college professor teaching ethics and medical behavior. He was most noted for his work to limit nuclear nonproliferation. He worked hard to bridge the divide in the cold war. He started and advocated for several liberal causes in the 1960s and '70s. Cousins also developed an interesting way to deal with his various illnesses. His method was called Laugh Therapy.

Franklin Gutiérrez (Guti)

A major league ballplayer. He played for Cleveland, Seattle, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2010 he won the Golden Glove with a fielding percentage of 1.000 in 146 games. In 2013 he was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, and then in 2014, he informed the Mariners he could not play in the 2014 season due to AS and irritable bowel syndrome. He had a great last week of playing in the major league when in July 2015 he hit a grand slam home run while with the Mariners. AS eventually ended his career. He is now coaching.

Ed Sullivan

Mr. Sullivan was the first person I had ever heard of who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis before I was diagnosed. Some of us remember that Mr. Sullivan was the Sunday evening star-maker on CBS. With three television networks, the Ed Sullivan variety show was the Sunday evening destination from 1948 to 1971. He introduced the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and the Supremes to America. In a world without MTV, the Ed Sullivan show was the music industry's best place to mix live performances with a studio audience and television. His show also featured Broadway, Comedy, Celebrity, and Impression acts.

Dan Reynolds

The lead singer of Imagine Dragons. As a lead singer, he has had a string of successful releases starting in 2013 and continuing until today. In 2015 he announced he has ankylosing spondylitis during the band’s legendary Smoke + Mirror’s tour. He is a celebrity spokesperson for Novartis.

See, even if Grant did not have AS, we are still in wonderful company.

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